Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) know that diversification from oil-dependency requires foreign investment, with the best example being Saudi Vision 2030, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many governments are therefore taking steps to relax and improve their foreign investment laws, as a recent report by PwC shows.
Qatar, for example, altered its laws this year to allow 100% foreign ownership across 13 sectors including healthcare, education, and construction – while in publicly listed companies, foreign ownership limits were raised to 49%.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia loosened its 49% limit laws on foreign investment in listed company shares. Oman also plans to introduce a foreign capital investment law in 2020 which will abolish restrictions on overseas investors.
The UAE received more foreign capital than all its neighbours combined in 2017 and 2018, due to its evermore accommodating stance towards foreign investment. Investors who contribute more than AED 10m ($2.7m) into UAE businesses are now granted 10-year visas with the possibility to be extended to their families or business partners. In addition, real-estate investors who spend more than AED 5m are granted a five-year visa.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia introduced the Premium Residency law in the second quarter of 2019 which is estimated to raise an annual sum of $10bn. The law offers immigrants permanent residencies at a price of SAR 800,000 ($213,000) with which they would be able to purchase real-estate, hire domestic employees, and sponsor family members. The kingdom also implemented its first tourist visa in 2019.
The progress of GCC nations’ business reforms in recent years is highlighted by their improved ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. Bahrain climbed from 63rd best in the world in 2017 to 43rd in 2020, while Saudi Arabia climbed 94th in 2017 to 62nd in 2020. Meanwhile, Qatar moved from 83rd in 2017 to 77th in 2020, and the UAE from 26th in 2017 to 16th in 2020.